An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IF you have been to New Ireland Province you would definitely love the experience for its beautiful scenery - white sandy beaches, crystal flowing rivers - and friendly faces, not forgetting the array of fresh local cuisine.
Yes, the smoked fish, roasted seashell kebabs infused in coconut cream, mumu tapiok (grated cassava baked in hot stones), tropical fruit and vegetables. All sold at the market.
And a tranquillity that captures New Ireland to its core.
An intriguing aspect about the province is its electricity supply within the two districts of Kavieng and Namatanai.
It struck me that electricity in Namatanai is neither generated, transmitted nor distributed by PNG Power. As an employee of the company, I was especially intrigued. The provision of electricity here is part of the provincial government’s delivery of basic services. My company only operates within the provincial capital, Kavieng.
As is common throughout Papua New Guinea, the majority of Namatanai District’s 111,000 people live a subsistence life in a village setting.
There are others, though, those who strive for business opportunities through fishing or agriculture by growing cash crops like coconut, cocoa including the ever popular betel nut.
Namatanai’s trade stores and shopping centres now number well over seven, mostly operated by Asians of Chinese origin. Bank South Pacific is the only banking facility servicing the district.
Due to recently improved roads, there are more public motor vehicles and automobiles of all sorts, and the production of goods and services is booming. Consequently, the need for electricity has increased.
Despite being blessed with flowing rivers, creeks and streams, no hydro scheme been constructed to harness this potential energy source. There is an abandoned, dilapidated mini-dam at Sohun that attests that someone once had an idea along these lines.
At present, electricity is produced through a thermal power station, pictured above, located in Namatanai and distributed throughout town.
In October last year, the Provincial Administration implemented an Easipay meter system to residences, shops and offices as replacement for the outdated credit meters. There’s been some opposition to this from individuals and business owners who complain that the electricity supply has never been reliable and that the costs are ridiculously expensive.
For instance, all business premises are required to pay a bond fee of K3,000 whilst individuals must pay an initial deposit of K250 three months prior to being connected. Electricity is charged at two kina per unit, somewhat more expensive than Pacific Power.
Sightseeing in town, I overheard a public servant complaining about the unfairness of having to pay the requisite fee despite living in a property owned by the district administration. He insisted the administration should bear these costs. “I’m used to living in the dark so why bother to pay this much money,” he argued.
Electricity really is a luxury item reserved for the working class. People refuse to payfor the expensive, unreliable service and resort to kerosene lamps or portable fluorescent lighting while most shopping centres use their own diesel generators and solar panels.
But vital government institutions such as the health centre, courthouse, police station and the secondary school rely on this vital service, which is available only between 6am and 2pm before being switched off and resuming from 6-10pm.
So Namatanai has an electricity supply with distinctive challenges to service delivery. While Pacific Power is a specialised state-owned enterprise solely focused on electricity, local government agencies such as the Namatanai District Administration may not have the expertise to run a full service.
Nevertheless, it is commendable that Namatanai is taking positive steps to address electricity needs.
PNG has welcomed the dawning of 2015 and the national government’s rural electrification program. With this come new challenges. One is to ensure that electricity is easily accessible at reasonable cost to the rural based population still living under kerosene lamps or battery operated fluorescent lighting.